Call to request a free consultation: 540.345.2000

Personal Injury Lawyers in Southwest Virginia, Virginia, and Nationally


How do you explain why some children become bullies and others become victims? Children learn most behaviors at home. I am reminded of a quotation I’ve seen in many homes: Children learn what they live. Bullying is like any other learned behavior: it often begins at home. Equally important, helplessness in the face of a bully is also a learned behavior. On both sides of the act of bullying, children learn what they live.

People are bullied at all ages and in a surprising variety of settings. Scientists and behaviorists believe they know why people bully others. They also argue convincingly that they have identified the characteristics typical of people who are bullies and the characteristics of typical bullying victims. Very often, these characteristics are shaped in the home.

What Is Bullying?

Bullying Definition

The Home Environment

Two elements in the home environment contribute to the development of both the bully and the victim, according to scientists.

The first element in the home is a bullying, abusive and toxic parent. Bullies are abusive; abusers are bullies. Children in an abusive and bullying home learn what they live in one of two ways:

parent bullying child - Altizer Law

Photo by Katherine Arce

  1. The bullying parent raises a copy-cat, a child who uses the same behaviors on siblings, schoolmates, playmates, or even a parent who is victimized by the bullying parent.
  2. The bullying parent instills in the child a psychology of victimization – of helplessness – that also makes the child an obvious potential victim of bullying siblings, playmates, schoolmates and others.

The second factor in the home environment that encourages the development of both bullies and victims is a parent who allows the child to be bullied. When the non-abusive parent fails to protect the child from the bullying parent and/or sibling, the child learns that he or she is helpless to avoid or stop the bullying.

Bullying parents typically single out the child to victimize because the child has no way to stand up to the behavior or to fight back – the child is “helpless” and must “just take it.” These children typically suffer from depression or other emotional problems throughout their lives.

The Key to Change

The key to the child’s healthy development is the non-abusive parent. If this parent is strong enough to stop the bullying when it happens, and helps the child learn appropriate behaviors, the cycle can be broken and the child can develop an adequate sense of personal strength or power. However, if the non-abusive parent is not able to protect the child from the abusive parent’s control, the child will typically develop into either a bully or a helpless victim.

Key Insights for Parents from the Experts

  • “Do as I say and not as I do” does not work in parenting.
  • Correcting a child’s inappropriate behavior is part of parenting.
  • Constantly trying to control every aspect of a child’s life is bullying.
  • Too often, a parent is the first case of bullying a child experiences.

Many of the proposals and programs promoted today about stopping bullying focus on the victim, the bully or the bystander. Few of those trying to help children escape and cope with bullying are looking inside the home. Perhaps more attention to what happens in the homes of abusive parents is indicated. Society cannot overlook the fact that children learn behaviors at home. It just might be that when it comes to bullying: children learn what they live.

Bullying can be a criminal matter, a civil matter, or both. Watch this blog and our website for more information.